The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 10, 2012

Higher Learning Commission withdraws Mountain State University's accreditation

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

— The Higher Learning Commission, Mountain State University’s general accreditation body, announced today that it has decided to withdraw the school’s accreditation effective Aug. 27.

According to the commission’s public disclosure notice, Mountain State has the option to appeal the Board of Trustees of the Higher Learning Commission’s decision to an Appeals Panel by July 23.

If the school does not appeal or if the commission’s Appeals Panel upholds the board’s decision the withdrawal becomes final.

The Mountain State University Board of Trustees is currently in a board meeting and is expected to issue a public statement today at 2 p.m., confirmed board president Dr. Jerry Ice.

It is not known if the school will decide to appeal the decision at this time.

The commission declared Mountain State University had not met the requirements of the June 23, 2011, Show-Cause Order.

The commission found the university did not meet three areas of the criteria for accreditation, showing lack of integrity, resources and administrative leadership.

The public disclosure notice states, “The board concluded that the university has not conducted itself with the integrity expected of an accredited institution with regard to ensuring that its students have accurate and timely information about the status of their academic programs and consistent quality across all academic programs.”

Later on, the commission elaborated by stating the school has focused on high enrollment and has only focused on improving program quality and oversight within the past year. And while the school is in the process of creating a new mission statement, the school had been unable to articulate the mission at the commission’s show-cause visit to the Beckley campus in February.

The notice goes on to state that the school does not have the resources expected of an accredited institution, has not demonstrated a plan to overcome its institutional challenges, lacks effective governance and administrative leadership to ensure quality academics and does not have adequate learning support and faculty oversight.

Problems with leadership extend from “a long history of control of the university by a small group of administrators including and surrounding the former president,” Dr. Charles Polk.

The commission also noted that many administrators lack credentials and previous employment experience consistent with their job titles and responsibilities.

Furthermore, the public notice indicates the commission found Mountain State was not in compliance with the criteria for accreditation when the show-cause team visited the campus in February.

“Although the university’s Board of Trustees fired the former president and has recently worked to improve its oversight of the university and its own systems of evaluation, these systems are not sufficiently established to demonstrate ongoing effectiveness and the visiting (show-cause evaluation) team found in interviews with faculty, staff and students ... efforts to improve leadership and shared governance were in early stages,” the notice reads.

Moreover, the commission said it had been informed by the Allied Health Education Programs that Mountain State’s diagnostic medical sonography program has been placed on probation.

During the June 28 Higher Learning Commission board meeting, the board reviewed the show-cause team’s report, the transcript of the school’s May 7 question and answer session with the commission in Chicago and other materials.

Mountain State University will be required to submit a teach-out plan to the Higher Learning Commission for students who will finish their degree within the next year and want to continue at an accredited institution.

The school must file a teach-out plan with the commission by July 23 and students must be notified of their options by July 31.

The Higher Learning Commission first granted Mountain State accreditation in 1981 and granted a continuation after an evaluation in 2007, but problems within the School of Nursing raised an alarm three years later.

The commission stated it was notified of problems at the school by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission in 2010 when the national accrediting body pulled accreditation for the bachelor’s degree in nursing for low pass rates on licensure exams and too few credentialed faculty.

Mountain State University unsuccessfully appealed this action.

The nursing program took another blow when the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses revoked the state accreditation for the same program last February.

The Higher Learning Commission also took into consideration that the school has never been able to provide a consistent head count of nursing students or “provide certain credit-hour calculations” and the fact that the school remains on a provisional status with the U.S. Department of Education for not demonstrating its ability to monitor students academic progress to satisfy federal Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements.

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